On rare occasions on the road, Rachel and I buy a book, acknowledging how precious storage is in our rolling tiny house. Three, so far, have earned space on our Lilliputian nightstand.
Selections for Readers
The first is a leatherette-bound Zane Grey collection, bought in Moab during our Utah grand tour of the Mighty Five National Parks, acquired to see how a past stylist rendered the impossibly red and stark beauty we were experiencing for the first time.
The second is from that same Moab bookstore: Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a sweeping lesson in finding the common myths that underlie our historic experiences.
The third is Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck’s late-in-life road-trip memoir – a prescient precursor to our current trip and one whose every page causes us say to each other, “Here! Look! This is us!” We bought it today.
Besides those, we’re reading numerous books on our Kindles: some purchased and most borrowed, using the Libby, Overdrive, and Hoopla apps. From a hundred years ago we read Holmes stories from Conan Doyle. A few decades later the writers for us include Vonnegut and Edward Abbey. Recent standouts novels from Stephen King and Eley Williams make the cut for me. There are many more.
What they have in common is that all of these books, paper and electronic, make us want to be better writers.
Lessons for Writers
Grey is pulp, overblown and, through today’s lens, trite, for having pioneered the Western form he seems to copy. One races page to page.
Campbell is dense text, of the college sort, rife with footnotes and allusions by design. It’s thick, heady reading that makes you wish you’d paid more attention in your most senior literature class, or studied ancient Greek, or read in full Mortimer Adler’s Great Books beforehand. One studies every page.
Steinbeck is personal and vivid, treating language with a master’s nonchalance.
But all have something to teach. Grey to delight in attention to setting and action, and to cement their importance. Campbell to recognize the universal themes and structures that scaffold our fundamental stories. Steinbeck to underline the value of observing life: boots-on and tramping about in the world.
All are useful if you want to write. And we do, mostly for Haven’s Path – shared private journal entries for our future selves.
But there’s more we’re writing, too: longer stories where we’re each creating new fictional worlds to get lost in. We’ve long heard that one should write the stories they want to read. So when we’re too far out of cell range to download the next book from a favorite author, we turn to becoming our favorite authors instead.
The Stories We Want to Read
Rachel’s realm is epic fantasy, with a twist. Mine is superheroes, with a twist. It’s the twists that we’re delighted about, discovering surprises as places come to life in our imaginations and in our growing background dossiers.
Too fragile to share yet, as evanescent dreams can be. Aspirational for us both, this long-time ambition of making up stories good enough to write down and share.
She composes and refines in Word. I first-draft in Mac’s Notes, and we both organize in Scrivener, where revisions occur as the manuscript develops. But what matters is not the typing tool, it’s the typist, tapping into creativity.
And being creative is the most human thing we can do.
We’re alive when we write stories, each scene making us more us.
Creativity is shareable humanity.
Each word or brushstroke or note is one more delicate, desperate strand to connect us all when most of the time, by design or neglect, even in crowds and collectives, we live alone. We may like being alone, even cherish it among the hubbub and drain of so many responsibilities, but connection matters too.
And connection is the heart of the best stories.
Which we’re delighted to read and write.